Using "En" and "Ett"

by Erik Wilhelm Gren

Grammatical Function of En and Ett

En and Ett are the equivalents of English’s indefinite articles an and a. They have the exact same grammatical function. Whenever used in front of a noun they imply a general concept of that noun or any of that noun. For example:

Ett hus

A house

Ett hus is not talking about any specific house. It can, as far as we know, be any house. This is why they’re called obestämda artiklar (indefinite particles). Let’s look at some more examples:

  1. Jag bor i ett hus på landet.

    I live in a house on the country-side.

  2. Just nu pluggar jag ett nytt språk.

    Right now, I’m studying a new language.

  3. Jag har en hund som heter Pelle.

    I have a dog who’s called Pelle.

En or Ett?

In the introduction to nouns, I talked about the worst thing about Swedish grammar known as n-ord and t-ord. Each noun is classified into either of these groups and which group a noun belongs to decides which particles it should use: En should only be used when referring to a n-ord and Ett should only be used when referring to a t-ord.

  1. En katt

    A cat

  2. Ett katt

    An cat

The only way you can get better at this is by studying and remembering. Practicing and reading. Crying and giving u… No! There is sadly no shortcut to n-ord and t-ord, but there are better ways to learn more efficiently! My best tip is using flashcards and I talk all about it in this article about studying technique.

Is 1 Read as En or Ett?

If you read my article about numbers, you might have noticed that 1 can be read as either En or Ett. Now that you know about n-ord and t-ord, you might already have guessed what this all results in.

If the number 1 is in front of a t-ord, it will be read as Ett and if the number 1 is in front of a n-ord, it will be read as En.. Simply think of the number 1 here as a replacement for an indefinite article. It is, however, still the readers job to keep track of which nouns are t-ord and which are n-ord. Here are some examples:

  1. 1 hus => Ett hus

    1 house => One house

  2. 1 hund => En hund

    1 dog => One dog

  3. 21 hus => Tjugoett hus

    21 houses => Twentyone houses

  4. Anna har bara 1 hund. (en)

    Anna has only 1 dog.

What is wrong in example 3? Well, since we´re talking about 21 houses, the noun is no longer singular. I’ll talk about the plural form of nouns in a coming lesson, but for now, here is the rule:

if 1 appears in a larger number that is in front of a noun (like 231 hus or 701 hundar), it’s read as en and if 1 appears in a larger number without a noun, it can be read as both ett and en. This means that the above example 3 should instead be:

21 hus => Tjugoen hus

21 houses => Twentyone houses

What If 1 Is By Itself?

If 1 is all by itself, you tend to read it as ett.

Let’s Practice!

Here are some questions for you to answer. Try your best and, when you think you got it, hover or click on the blacked-out box to show the answer.

  1. Of course, this is the literal translation. The Swedish one, however, is the equivalent of English's "An apple a' day keeps the doctor away!"

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